Widows

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Written by: Steve McQueen (“Shame”) and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”)

Academy Award-winner Steve McQueen is a brilliant director. Although he has only made three features in the last decade — prior to his new thriller “Widows” — each of those films was clearly different and truly memorable, especially his controversial 2011 drama “Shame,” which starred Michael Fassbender as a New York City sex addict, and his brutal, 2013 Oscar-winning drama “12 Years a Slave.”

Sadly, his early cinematic achievements make “Widows” all the more disappointing. Knowing what he is capable of doing behind the camera, it’s unfortunate to see how incredibly ordinary of a heist movie it turned out to be. Even with a top-notch cast, its sprawling narrative ambition, flimsy characterizations and vague central plot push “Widows” to the brink of total collapse.

Set in Chicago, “Widows” kicks off with serious potential. McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) introduce audiences to a foursome of criminals who are quickly dispatched during a heist gone wrong. Left to mourn them are their wives — Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and less-important Amanda (a wasted Carrie Coon). When Veronica learns that her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) owes $2 million to some shady associates, she takes a set of blueprints left behind by her dead husband and decides to organize a robbery with the help of Linda and Alice, so they can pay off the debt.

Bursting over with more subplots than McQueen and Flynn know what to do with, “Widows” also follows a powerful and corrupt political family, led by father-son tandem Tom and Jack Mulligan (Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell), who get caught up in dirty deeds with one of Veronica’s debt collectors. Their story interlinks to one of the overall themes of the film, which attempts to deliver a reflective message about race, class and gentrification, but does so without much enthusiasm or emotion.

Regrettably, “Widows” forgets that it is – first and foremost – supposed to be a believable heist flick. There is so much happening away from their actual strategy, Flynn neglects piecing together a logical way to get Veronica and her crew to accomplish the feat without mucking it up. Sure, there’s a little preparation involved as we watch the women scout the location and talk through the importance of avoiding slip-ups, but once it’s time to execute the plan, moviegoers will be hard-pressed to explain how these characters are even remotely close to being ready for such a dangerous mission.

Add to this a handful of obvious plot holes and secondary storylines about a tense election, a rich developer procuring sexual services from Alice, a dead son, a fifth single mother trying to make ends meet, a hairstylist with a loan problem and an anticlimactic twist, and “Widows” spreads itself to waifish proportions.

Machete Kills

October 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Demian Bechir, Mel Gibson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Sin City”)
Written by: Kyle Ward (debut)

Despite being San Antonio-born and a champion of Texas filmmaking, director Robert Rodriguez’s work traditionally hasn’t done much to inspire local pride. While he seems like a swell guy to make movies with—based on some of the cool, eclectic casts he’s managed to put together—the end results range from mediocre to downright embarrassing. Even high points like “Sin City” and the original “Spy Kids” were undone by muddy plotting and crummy visuals. The low points, like all the rest of the “Spy Kids” films and “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” well…they’re completely awful.

Rodriguez, though, seems to have settled into a groove as of late, releasing the low-budget B-movie side of his personality that he’d tried to tamp down. The first trip down this road was “Machete,” famously spun into a feature after beginning life as a fake trailer. While not completely successful, the sense was Rodriguez was finally growing more comfortable in his own skin. In the sequel, “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez confirms he’s ready to finally embrace the fun of batshit insane cinema.

“Machete Kills” picks up with Danny Trejo’s badass ex-Federale Machete Cortez losing his partner/lover in a raid gone bad. A summons from the President of the Untied States (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez) saves Machete from the clutches of a racist Arizona sheriff determined to to hang himself an illegal immigrant. Soon Machete is charged with stopping a Mexican madman (Demian Bichir, wonderfully nuts) with a missile pointed at Washington D.C. Along the way, Machete has a rendezvous with Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), tangles with a gun bra-wielding madame (Sofia Vergara), and is pursued by El Cameleon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas), finally culminating in a showdown with Mel Gibson’s villainous Voz.

While the original “Machete” struggled under the weight of cramming social commentary regarding immigration in with ridiculous action and gratuitous nudity, “Machete Kills” doesn’t waste time on any of that bullshit. Equal parts satire and parody, “Machete Kills” piles on the craziness with reckless abandon from the get-go, kicking things off with a grainy, scratchy trailer for a space-faring sequel to a film that isn’t even in pre-production. Despite a saggy middle section of the movie that makes it feel much longer than its 107 minutes, “Machete Kills” is arguably the best Robert Rodriguez movie yet. Until “Machete Kills Again…In Space” hits theaters, anyway.

Michelle Rodriguez – Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s been 10 years since actress Michelle Rodriguez broke into the film industry by beating out 350 other young women for the lead role in the independent, award-winning film “Girlfight,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000.

Since that performance, Rodriguez has gone on to earn a number of roles in both independent and mainstream movies including “The Fast and the Furious,” “Blue Crush,” and last year’s history-making blockbuster “Avatar.” She now stars in director Robert Rodriguez’s new exploitation film “Machete.”

In the film, Rodriguez, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, plays Luz, aka Shé, a taco-truck employee who moonlights as a revolutionary. She helps title character Machete (Danny Trejo) seek revenge on the men who double-cross him and leave him for dead.

What attracted you to the role of Luz other than the fact that she is one of these strong female characters you’re known for playing?

I liked the fact that she’s about the people. There’s just something really beautiful about that – about the idea that you can have somebody that is attracted to innocence and attracted to struggle and peace and justice and will literally dedicate their life to that cause. I admire that in people. I personally feel like there’s a more democratic and efficient way to go about things, but this isn’t reality. (Laughs) This is an exploitation film. I enjoy taking things to an exaggerated fantasy limit.

Speaking of fighting for a cause, you recently joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. How did you get involved in that organization and what do you hope to accomplish in a group that is considered by many as very controversial?

I have a love for…anything that can’t defend itself or doesn’t have a voice. I’ve feel an innate connection and empathy towards it ever since I was a little kid. Not to be mushy or anything, but it’s something that rings true with me. I go back to Puerto Rico and I would cry because I would see that they were just destroying all the mountains. I was just always really frustrated at this lack of appreciation for man’s creation over nature. It wasn’t until I shot “Battle in Seattle” where I really started to think that maybe this activism thing isn’t necessarily the way everyone wants to go about it, but they’re doing something about it and I have to respect that. I started getting involved in different organizations and then I landed “Avatar” and [director] James [Cameron] started introducing me to other organizations and people that were seriously involved. There was a whole network. He opened up a gateway. I was like, “OK, this is where I belong. This is where I need to be.” So, I was out at the Cannes Film Festival deejaying some gigs and while I was out there I saw one of the Sea Shepherds. I was partying on a yacht and I saw this Sea Shepherd in Cannes! (Laughs) I was like, “What the hell is a Sea Shepherd doing in Cannes?” I had to go out there and meet him and see what he was all about.

Well, this does sound like a cause that you are definitely willing to fight for, but is it a cause that you’re willing to face danger for? I don’t know if you watch “Whale Wars,” but some members of the Conservation Society were kidnapped during the first season.

What’s that famous scene in “The Lion King?” It goes, “Danger? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I laugh in the face of danger!” I feel like the baby lion. I think they called him Simba.

You’re celebrating your 10-year anniversary as an actress this year. Does it still surprise you when you think back to “Girlfight” a decade ago and realize how far you’ve come?

You know, it doesn’t surprise me because now it feels so right and everything that I’ve gone through and everything that has happened is perfect. Even the hardships and the struggles and all the fights that I’ve had at studios, it’s great to be in a place where you’re like, “Finally, I get it.” I’ve established who I am and it’s just beautiful that I’ve been able to do it and that I’ve had the opportunity to it and that the business has been so open-minded to letting me grown as a person. [When I started] I was a kid, dude. I was 20 years old. I never had money in my life and I get thrust into this game and all of a sudden I’m doing “The Fast and the Furious” and taking mad dough. Next thing you know I’m in Hollywood movies just because Vin Disel liked my character in “Girlfight.” I’m like, “Dude? Do you even know what’s going on?” I’m a girl from Jersey City who knows nothing about cash and nothing about the lifestyle being thrust into it. I had so much education thrust at me so fast, I couldn’t even blink without learning something. It was amazing. I wouldn’t take back a second of it.

Some people are calling Danny Trejo the first big Latino action star…

Wait a minute. I don’t know about all that. People are forgetting Antonio Banderas in “Zorro.” He’s not the first Latin. And you can’t forget “El Chapulin Colorado.” Come on now. You have to give some props where it’s due. Maybe the first Mexican-American superhero. Because Cantinflas, even though he was funny, he was my hero.

Were you able to match Danny’s toughness?

Dude, that guy’s got a heart of gold. All you can do is accent it. It’s like he’s so hardcore but then you look in his eyes and he’s got this pureness about him. You feel like you’re in a good place with Danny…as long as you don’t get on his bad side. That’s one Mexican you don’t want to fuck with.

You’ve done you’re fair share of action movies and have carried a few guns in some of them, but nothing as massive as what you carry in “Machete.” How did making a Robert Rodriguez movie compare to the rest?

I feel like I’ve never really been truly allowed to be sexy before this. I feel like I’ve been able to explore a little bit more of my feminine side.

I guess it’s easier to feel sexy when you have a big gun in your hand.

(Laughs) That and a bra.

Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Ethan Maniquis (debut)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and Alvaro Rodriguez (“Shorts”)

Continuing where he left off after teasing audiences with a faux trailer in 2007’s “Grindhouse,” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) serves up a dish of entertaining mayhem and timely political satire in the form of “Machete.” It’s a contemporary exploitation flick with all the aesthetics of the hardcore vigilante films of the 70s, but with one discernable difference: This time a Mexican’s in charge.

In “Machete,” veteran actor Danny Trejo (“Con Air”) stars as the title character, a former Mexican Federale out for revenge against the men who set him up during an assassination attempt against racist politician Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). The senator, who spends his free time playing border enforcer and shooting Mexicans who cross into the U.S., is betting that his idea to eradicate all illegal immigrants and erect an electrified border fence will garner enough support to win the upcoming election.

Tied to the senator is Torrez (Steven Segal, who was smart to take this role instead of embarrassing himself in “The Expendables”), a drug cartel kingpin who just happens to be the same man carrying the sword that beheaded Machete’s wife.

On the run, Machete is reeled into “Operation Network,” an underground group of activists fighting for the rights of Mexican immigrants everywhere. Led by a revolutionist known as Shé (an obvious homage to Ché Guevara), “The Network” is a complex system of justice-seekers watching out for their fellow hombres.

Michelle Rodriguez (“Avatar”) plays Luz, a taco-truck owner who may or may not be a major part of “The Network,” but takes care of her own nonetheless. Jessica Alba (“Sin City”) is Sartana, an official with the U.S. Immigration Department who is forced to choose between the law and her empathy for the cause. Precious time is wasted on a topless Lindsay Lohan (“Georgia Rule”) as April, Booth’s meth-head daughter who is on screen long enough for her to flash her breasts and dress like a nun for the final shootout.

Already labeled as a “Mexploitation” film, “Machete” doesn’t disappoint in delivering incredibly campy violence by way of swords, surgical tools, and even a customized weed whacker with a little extra cutting power. No matter what, if any, political stance the film takes, Machete himself is simply a fun character to cheer for despite his lack of real personality.

Nevermind how much disarray immigration reform is across the country, Machete has actually taught us something that can’t be learned from watching Fox News or CNN. He’s taught us about survival. He’s taught us that a man can only be pushed so far before he starts pushing (slicing in this case) back. Most importantly, he’s taught us that whoever coined the first rule of modern warfare – “never bring a knife to a gunfight” – didn’t consider what a vengeful Mexican could actually do with a bad attitude and a blade.

Fast and Furious

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster
Directed by: Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

The fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” is much like its three predecessors. The dialogue is flat, the CGI is passable at best, and the script seems to have been written in a garage full of exhaust, but that doesn’t mean mainstream fans of the high-octane series won’t come out in droves especially with the original cast back in the driver’s seat in “Fast and Furious.”

It’s been eight years since Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) shared the road together and things haven’t changed much since their first race through Los Angeles in 2001. That’s probably because “Fast and Furious” starts right where “The Fast and the Furious” left off. Forget “2 Fast 2 Furious” or “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” In the world of underground street racing, it’s like the other two never pulled out of pit row.

Banking on the idea that a reunion would revamp the parade of fast cars, easy women, and ethnic stereotypes these types of films are typically known for, everyone involved here seems to be on cruise control. It wouldn’t matter either way since screenwriter Chris Morgan, the scribe behind “Tokyo Drift,” could have Twittered this in and made just as much sense.

In 150 or less characters: Dominic is out for revenge when (spoiler alert) his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is gunned down (it happens early on, so get over it) by a drug cartel led by Campos (John Ortiz). The baddies are also part of a street-racing gang who Brian is tracking. Jordana Brewster returns as Mia, Dominic’s sister and Brian’s ex-girlfriend.

If it all sounds drearily similar that’s because it is. The only real different in this race is that the drivers take time to turn on their GPS devices before hitting the gas. If that’s not ridiculous enough, the most preposterous scene happens when Dominic figures out everything that happened the night Letty is murdered just by looking at tire marks on the road. If the action scenes aren’t painful enough, nothing says torture like watching Vin Diesel play thoughtful.